Lead Author: MERLI Claudia
Published by: Law and Culture
Year published: 2012

This chapter examines the performance of a mild form of female genital cutting (fgc) in southern Thailand (locally called sunat) and its embeddedness in situational social and family dynamics where religious education, seniority, and gender play a pivotal role in making decisions. The goal of this chapter is to call the reader’s attention to the relevance of ethnographic investigation and microanalysis in detecting the existence of plural regional trends that need to be taken into account in planning public health policies. Analyzing selected case studies, this chapter will argue that in this region people following modernist, literalist interpretations of Islam usually reject the practice of fgc. Literalists pursue a direct reading and understanding of the scriptures rather than relying on the traditional interpretations of the Quran and hadiths offered by the major schools (madhhab) of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). These individuals can resort to different strategies to resist the requirement to circumcise girls maintained by the local traditionalist Shafii Muslims (the Shafii madhhab is the Sunni school of fiqh followed by the majority of Muslims in Southeast Asia). The antagonism between different understandings of the practice manifests itself at times within a single family. Specifically, I will examine some of the dynamics I witnessed in Satun, a province of southern Thailand. Here, family dynamics are not isolated from the wider field of political and religious diversification, which has become almost palpable in the region in the last ten years, and should therefore be contextualized keeping in mind the increasing fragmentation of the Thai social and political cosmos. I will address issues that can provide valuable insights for government officials, health agencies, and nongovernmental organizations (ngos) when designing policies for gathering information about the actual practice of fgc and eradicating it.